In the last 16 months I have watched two different two-part TV movies about two different highly successful rock'n'roll groups -- "The Temptations" in November 1998 and "The Beach Boys," which just concluded Monday evening. Even if you didn't see either, the pattern may sound familiar.
These are among my all-time favorite musical groups, even though each pursued its own distinct style. Each had its own dynamite sound. I often bought their records, tapes and CDs.
Each group enjoyed most of its popularity during the 1960s. In the early years of their respective rises to the top of the charts, there was great promise. Hearing the "Temps" sing "The Way You Do The Things You Do", "My Girl" and "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" were the best of the Motown sound, and the Beach Boys' "Surfin' Safari", "In My Room" and "I Get Around" exemplified the California surfin' sound.
As each movie accurately depicted, success and fortune can bring about the dark side of people, as well. In the case of both groups, some members remained loyal to their goals, wishing to continue to thrill audiences with their music. But, inevitably with entertainment standouts, ego and greed take their toll, too, affecting not only themselves but all of those around them.
Another common thread was revealed in the biographical movies of each group -- the failure of some individuals to cope with the success and fortune. All too soon, drug abuse took its toll. Otherwise genius songwriting minds become "fried" by marijuana, hashish, LSD and other dangerous substances. It is then that the real trouble starts. Original groups have fallen apart due to dissent and bickering. Great wedges are driven into the very heart of human creativity. Capitol Records executives were growing increasingly impatient with the band's lack of a hit record over a period covering several months.
In the Beach Boys movie on ABC, there was a disclaimer on the screen saying that some scenes were fictional to add dramatic effect to the movie. (Not that it wasn't dramatic enough already.) Still, there was much realistic content.
I detected much similarity between Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys and David Ruffin of The Temptations -- that they felt they were just a bit better than the rest of their bands. Thus begins the angry fallout, practically without fail.
Like his abusive and perfectionist father/producer Murry, Brian Wilson began to fall somewhat in those footsteps, belittling the talents of other members of The Beach Boys, especially his brother Dennis, the drummer. But he met up with the wrong crowd, eventually alienating his wife, his friends and fellow artists in the process. To hear his psychedelic musical renderings wasn't anything like the sound America had come to love. Rather, it sounded like a fight between two tomcats.
Angered because Brian had fired him as The Beach Boys' producer, and vowing to get even, Murry Wilson eventually sold out the rights to the group's hit songs and the production firm that he started, Sea of Tunes.
The movie had a bittersweet ending. After the elder Wilson suffered a fatal heart attack, the band talked again with their Capitol Records executive friend Nick, and they agreed to record an LP including their hit sounds of past years. It sounded as though The Beach Boys would once again be back in the limelight. It culminated with a concert in which lead singer Mike Love, the Wilsons' cousin, escorted a reluctant Brian onto the stage to finish their song, "Fun, Fun, Fun," on keyboard, amid wild cheers from the crowd.
As an afterthought to the movie, a question occurred to me: If people can jump from success to disaster in such a short time because of a harmful mindset, why, then, can't folks who are down-and-out without a ray of hope be finally redeemed to a point where victory can once again be theirs?
Somehow, I thought, the answers to that question must be spirit and will.
"Yeah, but it was just a movie," you might say.
Right, but it was based on a true story. So final question was, Hey, if people can be so much influenced by fictional movies loaded with cursing, evil and violence as they are, why can't they learn a valuable lesson from a truth-based film with good qualities? Who says life's lessons can't work the right way, too?